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Opening eyes, hearts wider


Readers reflect on how Sept. 11 changed how they feel about themselves, their families, their communities, their safety and their country.


I'd like to say that Sept. 11 made me appreciate my family more. But after the flurry of e-mails and phone calls to make sure family all over the United States were OK, routine pretty much settled back in. "Live your life," the president urged, so I did. But with one marked difference: red, white and blue.

I have reintroduced the patriotic combination into my wardrobe. My living room wall sports a lighted flag. I quilted two versions of the flag from fabric scraps the day of and day after the attack. It's not that I was unpatriotic before Sept 11. Now, I'm more conscious of it. The Stars and Stripes are comforting; something tangible to mark "before" and "after," and to unite me with every other American in a common bond.

-- Katherine Robinette, Gladstone

I'm a partner in a business and a workaholic. After the horrors and sadness of Sept. 11, I took stock of what mattered to me and what made a difference to myself and others. I asked my son and daughter-in-law if I could have Emily, my 5-month old granddaughter, on Fridays. They said yes! I no longer go into my office on Fridays. Emily comes over and we play and read and dance and blow bubbles. This spring we got a jogging stroller so we take a jog downtown (Lake Oswego) to Rossman Park, a little pocket park about a mile from our house. We play on the play structure there, watch kids shooting baskets, walk on the grass, etc. When we finish, we go over to the Tillamook Ice Cream store and get a dish of ice cream. Then we come home for a nap for both of us! The joy on Emily's face when she comes in the door on Friday, her squeals of delight when I push her in the swing we attached to the end of the carport, her smile when she wakes from her nap and sees "Granny," her hugs and kisses -- it is priceless. I know before I can blink my eyes, Emily will be going to kindergarten, but we will always have the precious memories of our Friday times together.

-- Karen Sykes, Lake Oswego Because I teach peace studies and conflict resolution, the terrible events of Sept. 11, which occurred as I was teaching an intro course, were one of the deepest challenges I've experienced. Like most people, my first thoughts were wishes for revenge: In my heart, I was hoping the brains behind the evil attack would be ended. Of course, that isn't what I said; to believe in nonviolence, and to practice it, requires conduct that rises above revenge even if the natural reaction is mixed.

My second immediate reaction was to promote massive humanitarian aid to the poor populations that provided the environment in which terrorism could flourish. It is never the people in a society who lead us into war; it is always the upper class, deeply invested in and addicted to gross profits from war profiteering and the booty that comes from a successful war (in this case an oil pipeline). Massive life-affirming aid could stanch the flow of got-nothing-to-lose youths from terror training.

But primarily, the attack on Sept. 11 and our state-sponsored terror in return beginning Oct. 7 has made me more active, more determined to work harder for peace and justice and against militarism and loss of human rights. I now teach a course called Nonviolent Response to Terrorism, which is new here at PSU.

-- Tom H. Hastings, Portland State University

Sept. 11 will always have mixed feelings for our family. All day long we sat at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center with one eye on the television and the other on the delivery room where that evening my first great-granddaughter, Jenna Starr Thompson, was born.

A very bright spot in an otherwise very dark day.

-- Claire Enloe, Hillsboro

The week before the tragedy my family gathered for a reunion camping trip. My husband and I returned realizing how important family is to us and how we'd like to have one of our own. On Sept. 11 all I could think about was family. Not just the thought of my own family, but the parents knowing their children were in those buildings and the kids who were left parentless.

I made up my mind that day: I will never have children. The world we live in today isn't good enough for my kids.

In the aftermath, as I stood in line to donate blood, I thought about family again. I thought about having a family and parenting in a way that would benefit my community and children in need. We began to research the idea of foster parenting and adoption. We were astonished by the need for foster parents, especially for children with disabilities. My husband and I met when we were 19, both camp counselors at a camp for kids with disabilities. We bought our first home in January. In May we became therapeutic foster parents to a 15-year-old girl with autism. Our lives were truly touched and changed forever Sept.11.

-- Molly Green, Portland

In the aftermath of Sept. 11 an experiment with my neighbors has positively altered the lives of several families. Focusing on one task that each of us does every day, preparing dinner, we decided to share the workload. Each family prepares dinner once a week and makes enough to feed the others.

The other families pick up a fresh, home-prepared dinner, ready to eat and enjoy without the planning, the shopping, dishes and the pressure and complications of making dinner every night. Because this simple act gives each family several "nights off," we are cooking more interesting foods with more variety.

We have gone from a neighborhood that waves at the mailbox to an interdependent group of people practicing giving and receiving every day. It has given us all some relief from what can be mundane and inspired a new attitude of friendship and community among us.

My only regret is that it took a national tragedy to motivate us to reach out to one another. Our daily lives are better in so many ways.

-- Kimberly DeMent, Portland

On July Fourth last year, my best friend moved to West Linn. I was still living in Orange County, Calif. We planned to celebrate our birthdays, hers in September and mine in October, in New York City. We were going to visit the Empire State Building and, of course, visit the twin towers. We made reservations to go -- she would meet me at JFK airport Sept. 12.

After getting over the shock (of the attacks), the thoughts kept coming to me: Those people who died just went to their jobs that morning, that's all. If I knew I was going to die today, could I truly say I'm happy with my life? The answer was "no." I hated my job, my long-term relationship was going nowhere, and I wasn't happy where I lived any longer.

(To make a) long story short, I visited my friend in October here in Oregon, loved it here and decided to go back to sell my house. I moved here the first week in December and every day I'm amazed at how that one incident made me truly look at my own life.

I'm happy where I live, I love my new job and I thank God every day I'm alive to enjoy my life again.

-- Janice McDaniel, Tigard

After Sept. 11, I kept thinking about how we were all going to handle this tragedy, especially the younger children. How would they react? How much of this could they absorb? I got my answer about a month later.

While standing in line at the grocery store, a magazine with a picture of the plane flying into the second tower caught my eye. A little boy, about 4 years old, whose mother was behind me in line, walked up to the display, pointed at the magazine, and said, "People died, Mama." Suddenly, he ran to my cart, started taking things out, and putting them on the counter. His mother said, "Honey, what are you doing?" His reply? "I'm helping her, Mama, like the firemen. I'm helping!"

Tat little boy showed me just how much we could learn by the examples of heroism we all saw on that tragic day.

-- Kristin Hazel, Oregon City

The World Trade Center terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, touched me in two distinct ways.

I hugged my 2-year-old close, with a hand on my pregnant tummy, as I watched the towers fall early that horrible morning. Just about two weeks after, on the 27th of September, my tiny son was born. As the weeks and months went on, I would hold him, marveling at how fast he was changing, and I would think of the many mothers who delivered their babies alone because their husbands were victims of Sept. 11. Those same mothers are now probably watching their babies learn to laugh or crawl, and are unable to share those precious moments with the man they loved. My heart goes out to them.

Sept. 11 changed my view of being a mother. It made me aware of what a blessing it is to have my husband by my side as we raise our tiny children. I hope I never let the fire die down in what is now a raging flame of gratitude that I have my husband supporting me as I step carefully through the journey of motherhood.

-- Dawnelle Breum, Tigard

Now, I hesitate when a jet flies overhead.

I hold my breath when I turn on the news.

I hear sirens and I listen for more.

When I say goodbye, I add, "be safe," and I savor that moment.

I think twice before entering buildings.

I am wary of large crowds.

I look with suspicion at others, and hate myself for it.

I have lost peace. And I grieve its death.

This unease will last forever.

And yet, I have gained.

Now, I measure my joy by little things.

The jingle of keys in the door.

The sound of gulping milk, slamming doors, backyard squeals

The whispers of sleep that ruffle my midnight.

The squishy treasures found in pockets.

I say I love you more frequently.

I say I am sorry more often.

I share more of myself.

I am grateful. And I celebrate.

May this fragile thanksgiving last forever.

-- Kimberly Simmons-Merino, Portland

My husband and I were born, raised and lived all our lives in New York. Our children, however, moved to Portland 12 years ago and have been urging us to relocate here. We've resisted until 9/ll.

We would have remained in New York indefinitely, but the events of 9/ll made us realize, more than ever, the importance of our family. Too many years were passing while we lived 3,000 miles from the people who meant most to us in the world.

Our only grandson was growing up, and we were missing piano recitals, basketball games and school plays. Our children were celebrating birthdays and holidays without us. They missed us and we missed them.

9/ll made us do something to change all that. We bought a condominium in the Northeast and plan to spend part of the year (the good-weather part) in the Rose City. Friends say we have the best of both worlds, but as far as we are concerned, the best part is being near our family. The event brought that home loud and clear.

-- Dorothy Dworkin, Portland

On Sept. 11, I was standing in a break room of an office . . . in downtown D.C., when I looked out the window to see an airplane descend into the side of the Pentagon, where the Navy offices where five friends and colleagues of mine were located. Twenty-four hours earlier, I had been in the Pentagon visiting those friends and others in the building.

As I watched the fireball and during the evacuation of Washington that followed, I can remember being overwhelmed by two things -- what can I do to help, and how never again would I leave a friend or loved one without telling them how much I cared for them. All over Washington, in the days that followed, I saw Americans helping in so many ways, giving testament that we are a great nation consisting of generous, caring individuals. But I truly learned that life can be lost at any moment, and that we must be grateful for every minute we have on this Earth.

-- Lesley Kelly, Cmdr. U.S. Navy (Ret.), Gresham

Since 9/11, I've had the feeling that the terrorists have won to some degree because since then, there seem to be more rules and requirements everywhere you go. Suddenly it's necessary to show ID to go on a Greyhound bus. It wasn't possible to tour the ships at this year's Rose Festival; the entire section was fenced off. They even wanted to check bags to enter the fairgrounds. I, for one, am dreading the 9/11 anniversary just because I feel that enough is enough. Maybe I don't have the blind, undying patriotism that appears to be so prevalent among many Americans these days, because I lived outside the United States for 30 years. Granted, it was a terrible tragedy and a heinous crime, but I just don't see how all the flag waving and paranoia helps anything.

-- Nicola Brown, Portland

Sept. 11 affected our family in a tragic way. Since 2000, my husband and I have been running through red tape for the adoption of two siblings in Cambodia. We traveled to meet them in June 2001, and this trip confirmed our desire to make these children part of our family. We were given a visa appointment date of Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2001, which is the final step in the international adoption process.

My husband's plane landed on Sept. 11, just hours before the terror attacks. Therefore, the U.S. Embassy and all the Cambodian government offices were closed. He was not able to finalize the adoption because of the office closure. He had to return home without our children. They were packed, ready to come home, and they were devastated. We told them we would be back soon, but complications arose between the United States and the Cambodian government. We still don't have our children home with us.

-- Faith and Tyroe Chhim, Portland

It was 9:41 a.m. Sept. 11, 2001, when American Flight 77 smashed into the Pentagon. At that instant, God's hand snatched Max J. Beilke, Master Sgt. U.S. Army (Ret.) up to his heavenly home.

Max's life was spent in service in our nation's military establishment, with recent years focused on Army retirees and Vietnam veterans.

His example of service to his fellow man has inspired and transformed my life. Max's lifetime investment in our nation and me personally has set me on a path to follow his example. The challenge of the return on his investment has been set before me. I will, in whatever measures I can, try to be a continuation of his life of servicehood and genuine, compassionate Christian caring. I will make him proud.

It's said that a person is not remembered for what they receive, but rather for what they give. My hero, my brother, will never be forgotten.

-- Doris Ann Brunelle, Milwaukie

Sept. 11 has changed my life in a way that others may not notice. My kids may not notice the extra hugs and added attention they now receive.

I have always tried to be a kind person, but now I go out of my way for those less fortunate than myself. For the first time I handed some money to a man while I was waiting for the light to change as he stood in the 90-degree weather begging for money. I never cried before during the national anthem and now do. I look into the sky when I hear a low-flying jet or plane pass by.

And most important, I fly my flag not just on holidays but always. Somehow I always knew how precious and lucky it is to be alive, even more so now. When I asked my 13-year-old if Sept. 11 changed his life he said, "I don't take things for granted anymore, Mom."

-- Barbara Gronvold, Portland

I am a Mexican American woman. Last Aug. 16, I made the move to Portland with my boyfriend. We live downtown in Southwest Portland, and I felt like Portland was one of the friendlier cities I've lived in.

The following things happened to me since 9/11: At the Grambling-PSU game last October at PGE Park, a woman sitting behind me kicked me several times in the back. I politely informed her that she was kicking me and if she got excited she could hurt me. She just gave me a blank stare. I turned back to the game, and shortly thereafter she kicked me six more times. They weren't hard kicks, but they were deliberate.

At the St. Louis airport last October, I was spread-eagle searched in the boarding area while being ogled by a group of retirees. I was finally let onto the plane, and a man said out loud, "Oh, they let her on." I got up from my seat in the rear of the plane and complained to the stewardess about the stressful situation. She was very nice. The men who were making fun of me looked (on) in horror as if I were going to shoot them.

Not a single woman has been implicated for having anything to do with the attacks on the twin towers. Yet it seems that wherever I go people are looking at me accusingly because of my skin color and the way I look.

-- Julie Rico, Portland

At 5:49 a.m., the phone rang on what was the beginning of the worst day of my life. It was my daughter Chris. She lived one block south of the World Trade Center. She had just heard a large explosion and flaming debris was falling around her apartment. I turned on the TV and saw what was happening. As the situation worsened, she decided to head for her office uptown. I didn't hear from Chris for about an hour. During that time the south tower collapsed, as I watched in horror. I prayed to God, "Please let her be safe." The thought of losing her devastated me. When she finally called and I heard her say, "Mom, I'm OK," we both cried for what seemed like forever.

As precious as she and my family were to me before that terrible day, they are even more so now. Chris and I talk to each other every day and always end the conversation with "love you."

-- Cindy Redell, Lake Oswego

September 11th!! I'll never forget!! I knew it meant war. I'm 86 years old and memories kept floating back to WWII, when my husband joined his friends to serve his country. Next came the Vietnam War, when my sons served in the military for the love of their country, too. My beautiful flag hung for many months at that time.

On Sept. 11 I decided to hang our memorial flag on the front of my house. I loved seeing it there dedicated to so many people today. On the morning of June 6, imagine my horror when I went outside to see the sight that met my eyes. Someone had come during the night and ripped it off, leaving only an inch of my flag hanging with its cord and ties dangling.

I screamed! I yelled! I cried! The thief even took my flag that I always held so close. I'm still hurting, but I'll be OK. A loving neighbor has hung another one for me.

-- Yvonne Kempe Deal, Lake Oswego

A number of years ago, my physician recommended a daily walk to relieve the stress that accompanies newly single parenting. As I live adjacent to a nature park, these daily forays became a primary pleasure in my routine, benefiting my spirits and health.

Post 9/11: The two-mile trail I walk is in Washington County, apparently on the flight path to the westside airports. Now, with every plane that flies overhead during these daily walks, I find I'm compelled to stop, look and watch each plane. I'm checking for a sudden rise or fall in elevation, change in direction, a dropping of a missile, spraying of a liquid or powder, or who knows what! Each time, I tell myself not to do this; not to stop and look. But every time I find I must halt; watch until every chopper, small plane, passenger jet, fighter jet is out of sight.

My precious time in nature, this previous joy and gift to myself, will never, ever be the same! The loss is immeasurable.

-- Patricia Taylor, Beaverton

Sept. 11 was extremely upsetting and depressing for me. I found myself fighting fears of what the world was becoming and hopelessness for mankind. I finally became clear enough to realize that each of us needed to do something positive -- something that made a difference. But what?

I concluded that a huge reason for hatred, violence and a lack of hope in our world, country, state, city and communities was due to poverty. I knew that I could do little to impact the world -- but I could help in my community.

I had recently been introduced to Portland Impact, an agency that works to eliminate poverty in Southeast Portland -- my community. I decided to put my time and energies to work there. I expressed my interest in developing a relationship with them and was elected to their board. I feel so fortunate to be able to help -- in my own way -- in my community. I am so inspired by the work that Portland Impact does in Southeast Portland, and it is a wonderful feeling to direct your energies to helping someone other than yourself and your family.

-- Barbara N. Henarie, Portland

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